Stigma: A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something (Merriam-Webster).
Let’s get the full disclosure out of the way first: I have bipolar disorder (type II, leans far more toward the depressive side than the manic) and borderline personality disorder (would take too long to explain; look it up if you like). I have been on disability for four years because of a nine-month depressive episode for which I received nine months of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It pretty much destroyed my brain. I no longer have a short-term memory of which to speak.
I can’t function in a lot of ways like I used to. I work part-time, for a psychologist who understands my many limitations and helps me work around them. But I could never go back to what I used to do in any aspect of life and expect to handle it like a normal adult.
So, there’s that. The more you know.
I bring this up because I am freaking sick and tired of mental health patients who complain about stigma. I read something today where someone said the only people who will come see you in the psych hospital are your parents and siblings, because your friends are too afraid of the stigma. Like they’re going to catch your mental illness, I guess. Here’s another disclosure: I’ve been in a mental hospital seven times since 2011, and nine overall. You know what? My friends came to see me every single time. Maybe it depends on your friends and not on stigma.
I think mentally ill people, just like all other people, need to take responsibility for their own selves. My brain got fried, and now it doesn’t work like it used to. But I live by myself. I make my own meals. I do my own laundry. I drive myself places. I feed and water and clean up after my cat. What I don’t do is sit on my butt and whine about how bad I have it because I’m mentally ill and there’s a stigma.
Don’t get me wrong: In some cases surrounding mental illness, there still is a stigma. Suicide, for one. There was a suicide awareness walk in a park near me this morning. People need to be made aware of a lot of things regarding suicide, because usually nobody knows what to say or do. It’s a sensitive subject.
But if you really believe there’s a stigma surrounding mental illness and you want to do something about it, then talk about it. Talk about your own experiences.
I’m putting this on the Internet, where it will live forevermore, and anyone who comes across it, including any future employers if I have them, will know that I am mentally ill. I have high school and college friends and former work colleagues who don’t know. Now they will. I believe in education, and that’s why I write these things.
Talk about it. Volunteer at a group run by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Offer to talk to community groups, to high school kids, to the elderly. Anyone can benefit from learning more from someone who lives it. If you want to break the stigma you believe exists, you have to do your part.